Monday, January 22, 2007

Woo-Hoo! TCM's New Columbia Crime Package


Beginning this month, Turner Classic Movies began premiering a whole new set of additions to their library "from the Hollywood studios of Columbia Pictures." Last week, the delightful and rarely-seen Gainsborough mermaid fantasy MIRANDA turned up on their schedule, the first time I've ever known it to appear on television (now bring on HELTER SKELTER and MAD ABOUT MEN, which also featured Glynis Johns as Miranda!), as well as the Jacques Tourneur classic CURSE OF THE DEMON. A reader called to notify us that TCM inadvertently ran the shorter American version of DEMON, even though the full length cut is available on domestic DVD, and asked me in a voice full of concern if I thought TCM "might be losing it."

To which I must answer "No chance!" -- especially after seeing the lineup they have prepared for us this coming Tuesday. In addition to an early morning broadcast of Howard Hawks' THE CRIMINAL CODE (1931, the film that brought Boris Karloff to the attention of FRANKENSTEIN director James Whale), TCM gets down to the nitty-gritty with their first showcasing of one of Columbia's classic B-mystery series, based on Jack Boyle's pulp fiction character "Boston Blackie."

Rather like Arsène Lupin, the French pulp hero of Maurice Leblanc, Boston Blackie (played by Chester Morris of THE BAT WHISPERS) is a former master criminal who -- with his accomplice-turned-valet The Runt (George E. Stone) -- goes straight, but is somehow never able to convince the law (usually personified by the gruff Richard Lane) of the sincerity of his intentions. Unlike the noirish quality of Columbia's "The Whistler" series, or the sometimes weird extremes of their "Crime Doctor" films, the "Boston Blackie" films are a snappy combination of B-mystery conventions and occasional screwball situation comedy that never outstays their welcome. It was Columbia's longest running B-mystery series, lasting for fourteen films over a period of nine years.

On Tuesday, January 23, between the hours of 1:30 and 6:30 pm eastern time, TCM will be showing the series' first four entries, described thusly on their website:

MEET BOSTON BLACKIE (1941)
A reformed thief uncovers a spy ring while investigating a murder at sea. Cast: Chester Morris, Rochelle Hudson, Richard Lane. Dir: Robert Florey. BW-58 mins

CONFESSIONS OF BOSTON BLACKIE (1941)
A reformed thief cracks a ring of art thieves to clear himself of murder charges. Cast: Chester Morris, Harriet Hilliard, Richard Lane. Dir: Edward Dmytryk. C-65 mins

ALIAS BOSTON BLACKIE (1942)
A reformed thief tracks down an escaped convict so he can prove the man is innocent. Cast: Chester Morris, Adele Mara, Richard Lane. Dir: Lew Landers. C-67 mins

BOSTON BLACKIE GOES HOLLYWOOD (1942)
When he's framed for robbery, a reformed thief takes off to find the real culprit. Cast: Chester Morris, George E. Stone, Constance Worth. Dir: Michael Gordon. BW-68 mins

I was a little disappointed to see that TCM hasn't booked "Boston Blackie" for daily appearances, but I can understand why they wouldn't want to show the whole bunch right away. I haven't seen their February schedule yet, but my fingers are crossed for more. In the meantime, by all means, grab these while you can -- I believe you'll find them habit-forming -- and join me in an eager wait for other Columbia B-mystery series to emerge from the Turner vaults.

The remaining titles, by the way: AFTER MIDNIGHT WITH BOSTON BLACKIE (1943), THE CHANCE OF A LIFETIME (1943), ONE MYSTERIOUS NIGHT (1944), BOSTON BLACKIE BOOKED ON SUSPICION (1945), BOSTON BLACKIE'S RENDEZVOUS (1945), A CLOSE CALL FOR BOSTON BLACKIE (1945), THE PHANTOM THIEF (1946), BOSTON BLACKIE AND THE LAW (1946), TRAPPED BY BOSTON BLACKIE (1948), and BOSTON BLACKIE'S CHINESE VENTURE (1949).

The titles without "Boston Blackie" in them are trickier than the others to find, but hopefully TCM will do what they can to make the search easy for us.

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